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Shoulder impingement syndrome

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger HendersonReviewed on 13.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Shoulder impingement syndrome (also known as subacromial impingement) is a condition characterised by painful movement of the shoulder. Pain often occurs when moving the shoulder and arm in specific directions and can be associated with weakness.

Shoulder impingement syndrome is one of the most common causes of shoulder pain. It most commonly affects people aged 30-70 and around one in five people will experience symptoms of shoulder impingement at some time in their lives. Shoulder impingement syndrome tends to cause pain that can be felt at the top of the shoulder and can spread down the arm towards the elbow, pain worse when lifting your arm to side and above your head, weakness when lifting your arm to the side.

Where is the problem occurring?

In shoulder impingement syndrome, the rotator cuff tendons of the shoulder (which are responsible for the movement of the shoulder in different directions) become inflamed or irritated by different causes in and around the subacromial space.

The causes of shoulder impingement syndrome are not very well understood. Factors thought to contribute to the development of shoulder impingement syndrome include repetitive overuse, muscle weakness or imbalance, and the size and shape of the bony space through which the tendons pass. It is most likely that a combination of a number of these factors will result in symptoms.

When to see your doctor?

If you develop severe shoulder pain following an injury you should seek medical attention sooner. If your shoulder pain has come on very quickly or is associated with you feeling unwell, especially with a fever, you should seek urgent medical attention.

What will my doctor do?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. On occasions, your doctor may arrange an X-Ray to assess the shoulder joint for other causes of pain. If a diagnosis of shoulder impingement syndrome is made you may be given advice regarding exercises and rest to help relieve your symptoms. You may be referred to a physiotherapist in the first instance, depending upon the local services available.

If your symptoms fail to improve despite physiotherapy input or are very severe, you may be referred to an orthopaedic surgeon. Additional hospital treatments that can be offered for shoulder impingement syndrome include injections or, very rarely, surgery to remove some of the inflamed tissue and increase the size of the space around the shoulder through which the tendons pass. It is important to remember that in most cases an almost complete recovery can be expected without requiring any form of injection or surgery.

Related topics

Read about Frozen shoulder

Read about Rotator cuff tear

Read about Shoulder pain: when to do something about it

Read about Shoulder injury: prevention, treatment and recovery

Read about Shoulder problems in sports

Read about Arthroscopy (keyhole surgery)

Read about Bursitis

Read about Polymyalgia rheumatica

Read about Arthritis

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 13.10.2023